Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tactics, Tactics, Tactics...

What is chess? It is two opponents struggling to outwit each other by making a series of calculated moves. A player can’t control what moves his opponent will make, so really the only thing he can do is make the best possible decisions at every stage/move of the game. Each one of these series of decisions must be part of an overlaying plan that he has developed and must be based on which single move at that time gives the best practical outcome, while weighing numerous factors such as; strength of opponent, time available, tournament considerations (do I need to win this game to get first, second, top under 1900 etc…) The player must also bear in mind; his piece development, king safety, attacking possibilities, pawn structure, possible endgame positions, etc…. During a game a player will have to make anywhere from 10 to 100 such decisions depending on the length of the game, and sometime these decisions will need to be made under enormous time pressure. The one thing that is common to each one of these decisions is the consideration of tactics. While playing chess the player needs to be constantly analyzing all the available tactics at his disposal as well as all the tactics available to his opponent.

When I was younger, I always thought my use of the available tactics in a game was one of my strengths, but now that I am older, I found that I am not as sharp as I used to be, and tactics has become one of my weaknesses, especially when facing the higher rated competition I see at tournaments these days. In order to strengthen this facet of my game I have decided to spend less time worrying about openings and more time practicing practical tactics. With a busy family life, I have only a limited time available to study chess and studying openings usually requires an extended period of time to go through different themes and variations. Tactics, on the other hand, can be practiced in time periods as short as minutes. I started my new practice regime around Christmas. The most important aspect of my regime is that I must have tactical problems available to me everywhere I go; at home, at work, in the vehicle. These problems are usually photocopies taken from anyone of the many books available on chess tactics. If I have a few free minutes, whether it’s while I’m eating lunch, going to the bathroom, waiting at a drive through, etc., I can look at one or more problems.

Another thing that I have just discovered which should help strengthen a players tactical ability is the “Chess Tactics Server”. It is a web page which presents you with an endless series of chess problems to solve and then rates you based on whether you found the correct solution and how long it took you to find it. I can usually find the solutions but my time seems to always be slower than recommended especially at the start of a session. The server tracks your progress and improvement over time so you can see the benefit of practice. I’m not sure of their rating scale as my rating on the server is much lower than my CFC rating, but it is the relative improvement that is important, not the rating number itself. I will add a link to the “Chess Tactics Server” on the side of my blog.

I think I have seen improvement in my tactical ability after only two months of practice so I plan to continue with this study method for the foreseeable future. Plus I did play very well in my last tournament and I hope some of it was because of the tactics I saw during the games. The only true test is time so I will have to see how I play in future tournaments.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chess Schedule Update

Today we decided not to travel to Edmonton for the schoolastic regional chess tournament. Last weekend we went to Edm. for a kids chess tournament and two days ago we had to go to edmonton to pick up relatives at the airport so I was tired of the travel, plus the kids were not that eager to play. They have not been playing at home at all and when they enter a tournament thay have not done as well as they expected and have been disapointed. I'm not sure it's fair to enter them in tournaments if they have not been practicing.

When were were in Edm on Saturday I played one round in the John chess casual tournament against Rob McCullough. It was a Kings Indian Defense where I was lucky when he missed a strong Nb5 that would have won my c7 pawn and instead played Ne4. After that I was able to build up a strong kingide attack and win with a Queen and rook attack along the open h file. The kids also played and lost their games against stronger players than they are used to playing.

I am now planning on playing in the March of Kings tournament in Calgary next month. It coincides with a business trip that I can extend over the weekend. Unfortunately the Northern Alberta Open is still not likely for me but I will make a prediction of the results when I know the participants but right now I'm leaning toward Sasata to defend his title.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blindfold Chess (Blindman vs. Machine)

The recent publishing of the book “Blindfold Chess” has lead to discussion on the chesstalk server. It got me thinking about the blindfold games I played years ago. When I was young I tried it out just to see if I could do it. It really impresses non chess players but it is actually easier than it looks. The trick is to check in your head where all your pieces are every few moves. My blindfold chess games were not very strong, most of the time, but good enough to occasionally beat my Novag Constellation. I’m not sure if my games even qualify as “blindfold” because I did have an empty board in front of me.

I remember the first time I ever played a blindfold game. It was a Saturday night and the hockey game was on the television. I placed a board and pieces on the table in front of my dad and challenged him to a game. I sat down on the floor in front of him with an empty board to look at, and called out my moves to my dad behind me as the Toronto Maple Leafs played hockey in front of us. I sure it must of been the Leafs playing because if it was Montreal I would have been more interested in the hockey game. My father is not a strong chess player and I was able to beat him but it did require intense concentration, especially as the game moved out of the opening phase into the middle game. A rematch happened right away but I was not as successful as before because I quickly lost track of where the pieces were sitting and kept trying to make illegal/ impossible moves and left pieces hanging everywhere.

As blindfold chess was on my mind today, I took out the weakest computer I have, the Go 1650L, and tried to play a couple of games without the pieces. I wrote down the moves but didn’t look at the previous moves on the scoresheet during the game. The computer was set on level 3 so it would move in less than 30 seconds. I’m not sure what strength that equates to but I am sure it is fairly weak.

Here, for your amusement, are the two “blindfold” games I played today. Please don’t be too critical of my play.



I wonder if playing blindfold chess will help improve a players regular chess by increasing their visualization skills. Has anyone else tried playing blindfold? What has your experience been?